Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Sensory Experience

Last night, I got to play the first regular mission in our Mouse Guard campaign with the Myth Weavers. Episode #14 has the recording, and I just posted an adventure log for the session on the campaign page on Obsidian Portal. But none of that will likely tell you just how much fun I had with this game. It's really the most fun I've had playing an RPG in a very, very long time.

It got me thinking about why I enjoyed it so much, and by comparison, why something like my D&D campaign so often falls flat for me. It didn't take long to realize that what I'd enjoyed most in this session came when I really got on a tear describing things. The others said they enjoyed the game, but I didn't hear anyone else describe it with the kind of superlatives I felt. I had a "gamer high" that kept me up for another hour, despite how late it had gotten by the time we ended. And editing the recording for the podcast, it also became clear that only I had really gotten onto a good tear like that. More to the point, I'd gotten on two or three of them. Thinking back, I can remember other games I've enjoyed, and in each one, I can remember at least one point—usually what stands in my memory as the high point—when my description of something suddenly becomes vivid, excited ... fluid.

I hit a flow experience in my description. I don't have to search for words, because I play average. I don't need to struggle to think of what to add to my description. I can see it in my head, and the description comes easily, like running water.

I very often struggle with description. In speech, if not in text, I consider myself halting, hesitant, tongue-tied and thoroughly lacking in eloquence. But not when I get on a good tear. It becomes fluid and effortless. Key to it, I think, lies in that I stop trying to come up with a good description, and instead, I really go there, and I describe what I see. So, the challenge lies not in imagining the scene, but in describing the scene I see.

In April, I wrote about something I cheekily called, "The Storyjammer's Journey." In that series, I described real story as something we pursue, rather than something we make up. In Play Unsafe, Graham Walmsley advises to play average.

Do the obvious thing: the thing that obviously happens next in the story; the thing that you think everyone expects to happen. Paradoxically, that obvious thing may, to everyone else, seem original and brilliant. ... Naturally, not every "obvious" thing you say will be brilliant. Often, what you think is an obvious next step in the story will, indeed, be an obvious step in the story. That's fine. When you respond obviously, 90% of the time, you'll carry the story forward naturally. If you'd tried to be clever, 90% of the time, you'd have thrown the story off course. And, when you're obvious, one time in ten, you’ll be brilliant.

Try to be brilliant and you'll fail. Be obvious and, often, you'll be brilliant. (p. 8)

This has everything to do with finding a story rather than making up a story. I suppose I should have already realized this, that I enjoy stories that we can explore, not stories that we make up. But this has helped me realize something: I enjoy this sensory experience of the story we find most of all in RPG's. I play RPG's for that.

So, this gives me a design goal for The Fifth World: to drive towards and support that rapturous description of the story we find.

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